Rwanda may join regional body soon, leaders say

Rwanda could be admitted to the East African Community (EAC) by the end of this year, according to a directive by the heads of state of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda at a two-day extra-ordinary summit, which ended on Monday in Tanzania's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

"The three heads of state have directed the [EAC] Council of Ministers to expedite the process of [Rwanda's] admission so that at the next ordinary summit in November 2005, the matter would be concluded," read the joint communiqué issued by Presidents Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.

At their summit, the leaders also discussed a report on fast tracking of the integration of the East African countries and the creation of a political federation, but said there was need for further and wider consultations.

They directed the Council of Ministers to form national consultative mechanisms and to collect views from the public and report back to the summit within the next 12 months.

"A strong federation is only possible if it is owned by the people of East Africa themselves through the effective and informed participation from the very beginning of the process up to the end.

"Their excellencies underscored the need for each partner state to widen consultations and include all key stakeholders including the general public, parliaments, civil society, the academia, religious institutions and political parties to obtain more views," the communiqué said.

However, the call for more consultation could delay proposals by a six-member committee, led by Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako, for the East African Federation to be launched by January 2010.

Under the committee's proposals, East Africa would have a federal parliament and one court of justice. The process would have begun by July 2005 with the appointment of a constitutional commission to draft a preliminary regional constitution by 2007, ahead of a regional constitutional forum in 2008 and a referendum in 2009.

Regarding Burundi, which has also applied to join the EAC, the heads of state welcomed positive developments in the country, and encouraged the parties involved in the peace process to stay on course.

"Specifically, they [the leaders] called on the parties to ensure that the elections are conducted and concluded successfully," the leaders said in the communiqué.